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Android TV Kills The Micro-Consoles, Cuts Out The Middle Men

Jonathan Lester
Android TV, Google, Microconsole

Android TV Kills The Micro-Consoles, Cuts Out The Middle Men

Google Gets Serious?

Android-powered micro-consoles seemed like a fantastic idea back when the word on everyone's lips was "OUYA," not "PS4." Cheap hardware, affordable games, ease of development, everybody wins. What a wonderful concept.

However, the reality of the situation didn't take long to dawn on us, especially after a few months of OUYA ownership. The problems were myriad, from Android's lacklustre gaming library to out-of-box obsolescence. Not to mention some borderline-psychopathic decisions made by Boxer8's top brass. Most importantly of all, microconsoles are stuck in a Catch-22 situation whereby they can't make money on software sold through the Google Play marketplace, yet Google Play is the only long-term Android marketplace developers will bother developing for.

Android TV Kills The Micro-Consoles, Cuts Out The Middle Men

Now they've revealed a gaming platform of their own -- Android TV -- which has pretty much made every existing contender using their operating system obsolete.

We've seen it all before, but don't start rolling your eyes just yet. The twist here is that Android TV isn't going to be a set-top box for long, rather that's just the first step in securing world domination. It's a service, not so much a piece of hardware, which will soon live inside your telly and other more versatile devices.

Revealed at the latest Android I/O conference, Android TV initially resembles most 'microconsoles' in terms of functionality. You can rent or buy movies and TV shows, browse content with voice commands a la the Kindle Fire and play Android games that support Bluetooth controller inputs. Indeed, you can get a first look at the new official controller thanks to a render a Reddit user discovered in the Android L version files (above) and a photo snapped at the conference below. A shiny and familiar-looking peripheral to be sure.

Android TV Kills The Micro-Consoles, Cuts Out The Middle Men

Credit to Artem Russakovskii.

So far so predictable, but Android TV has some intriguing benefits. First of all, it "plays nice" with all Android hardware, allowing you to 'cast' films and shows from phones or tablets, syncing progress so you can pick up where you left off. Phones and tablets can also be used as controllers if games aren't programmed with physical inputs. We

More interestingly, though, it's also not a set-top box. Even if you'll find it in set-top boxes.

Android TV Kills The Micro-Consoles, Cuts Out The Middle Men

Knowing Razer, this will be called the "Jormungand" and cost £1500

The Android TV service is designed to be easy for multiple manufacturers to incorporate into their hardware, both for creators of streaming HTPCs such as Razer and Asus alongside smart TV giants such as Sony (and Samsung, we suspect, especially since the relationship between the two companies has only deepened of late). As such it will be available in a variety of inexpensive set-top boxes, but also within more versatile units and, from next year, baked into television sets too. Presumably you'll only need your Google Play details to access your existing content, regardless of the device, with all your progress, friends lists and achievements corralled up into the pre-existing Google Play Games app.

A few potential issues still exist, notably the lack of quality gaming software for Android relative to the size of its user base. Rampant piracy, the fragmented nature of the OS and difficulty optimising for so many devices has held back Android's gaming ecosystem - Android gaming is years behind where it ought to be, unless you count a berserk torrent of F2P titles. However, Google should be able to spend some of their extraordinary wealth on securing more quality games for the system, especially in order to counter Amazon Fire TV's acquisition of top-tier industry talent.

That is, unless they've spent it all on wearable computers and killer robots.

Do we need to play Android games on a big screen? Personally, I feel that the jury's out, but Android TV makes the most sense as an entertainment service with loads of options and devices, not a micro-console with an increasingly depressing future.


Add a comment5 comments
Late  Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:31

My plasma doesn't have a touch-screen, but it will if I get this?*
Sweet - that'll make playing Bloons TD awesome! :D

"Knowing Razer, this will be called the "Jormungand" and cost £1500"
lol! =))

I'm torn. I want the capability to play my android stuff on the big screen (without casting or cabling from hand-held device) but I don't know that I'd actually use it. It'd be one of those things where I'd marvel at it for an hour or two then stick it in a cupboard and forget about it.

It's obviously better suited to some games and apps than others. The aforementioned tower-defence game wouldn't benefit from being on the big screen, but naturally it's great for film/tv, and many games would benefit (quizzes, platformers, and driving games spring immediately to mind).
How well playing Rayman on an android device on the big screen stacks up against playing Rayman on a traditional console is another matter, though. And I doubt Asphalt can really compete with Forza/Gran Turismo etc.

It's definitely dire news for ouya/gamestick/etc. though. If you want android on your tv and you have a choice between something that's got access to google play and all of the content you've already bought, or something that has it's own bespoke marketplace with a severely limited number of apps and a blank purchase history then it's a no-brainer - even if this costs a little more than the competition.

Which it shouldn't, tbh. Google should be able to knock these out cheaper than their rivals, thanks to their deals with any number of electronics manufacturers, and they can save on licences. And of course they're not adverse to putting devices out at very low margin (possibly at a loss?) to ensure they get a massive market share (I'm thinking of their Nexus lines - which I have in mind they originally sold at a loss, but I'm not certain of that).

EDIT - it would probably benefit massively from android games using cloud saves, if that's possible. I'd be much more inclined to play my android games on the big screen if I knew I could continue from where I'm up to on my phone/tablet rather than having to start afresh...

*Not serious about the touch screen!

Last edited by Late, Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:34
JonLester  Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:37

@Late: yeah, I'm still conflicted about the need for the platform, but it's still the most viable option for me. After all, it's first-party.

For me the key is that Android TV isn't actually a piece of hardware - it's a service and controller that's going to piggyback on streaming boxes from other manufacturers and eventually end up built into smart TVs as standard. Who needs a dongle or microconsole if and when it's built into the stuff you already own, or hardware you pick up to also stream Steam games etc?

Last edited by JonLester, Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:40
Late  Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:48

On one hand I like that it'll be possible to run on hardware inside your tv. But on another it means it'll be harder to upgrade and stay up to date.

I assume it'll always be kept up to date with OS upgrades - presumably with upgrades coming alongside mobile devices (though being customised for the platform).

But at some point Google will announce that their new firmware version of the Android TV OS will only be compatible with devices with 8-core processors or something like that (you know I'm not that technically minded!) and those who bought TVs with a quad-core android processor will get left behind.

I don't mind upgrading my phone/tablet every 2 years. I don't want to do that with my telly, though!

JonLester  Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:54

Sadly, I suspect that we'll be too busy fighting to survive Google's killer robot/drone army to worry about the next wave of Android Play TV upgrades :p

Late  Jun. 30, 2014 at 14:58

With tech getting smaller by the year I think we'll survive when the entire Google fleet is swallowed by a small dog.

(Gotta love Douglas Adams)

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